Visitors - Come on in and say hello!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Last Thursday, and again today, I watched "Bridge to Terabithia", and let me tell you, this movie never fails to make me cry. Like a baby. Fine if I'm alone, but I was with my family last Thursday and trying really hard to not show emotion! (I have a hard time crying around other people and if I do so I'm horribly embarassed.)

Anyway, tonight, there it was again, and this time, I have a chance to write about what is on my mind. One of the memories this movie brings back is not so flattering, but may at the same time be of use to the mind of a child.

I don't know how old I was, maybe 7, and we lived in a country neighborhood, a conglomeration of trailer homes and houses, most of which were single-story. We weren't even on a map (until my Mom got involved due to another family losing their home to a fire...long story.)

Then one day I met Andrea, who was new to the neighborhood, and, joy of my heart, her family had HORSES! One day after school I got permission to go to her house with the admonition to not go into the horses's paddock. Mom was insistent that she "meet" any horse I even considered petting. She knew my love for horses, as well as my disregard for consequences including those caused by wild animals.

But given Andrea's description of the colt, Toby, and his mama, Bella, I really wanted to go see the horses!

Andrea arrived at her house, but the horses were not in sight. They weren't in the barn, so she ducked under the fence. I knew not to go...but of course, did so anyway. My new friend kept speaking of Toby's sweetness and his beauty...and certainly he was within the fence even if behind the barn! So I ducked in between the wooden fence slats and followed her through the hoof-beaten paddock, taking care not to turn my ankle in the deep hoof prints in the hardened clay of the Illinois (Rock River) river valley clay.

We wandered around the long weatherbeaten barn, chatting amiably, and as we cleared the far side, we saw the alleyway that ran between the wood-and-wire fence and the barn. At the far end stood Toby, a chestnut colt, looking at us curiously, head up, ears forward, somewhat smug in his expression. He was A LOT larger than I expected, as I still had the mental image of "colt" as being a "short-statured baby horse."

Yeah. He was a yearling. Horse people know how big he really was to a 7-year-old.

So as Toby trotted towards we human creatures curiously, we did what was natural in the face of a large oncoming equine...we ran! I followed Andrea around the barn as Toby's hoofbeats followed. She ducked under the fence...and I tripped in one of the deep hoof-caverns there in the hardened clay. Toby was coming! He was at the corner of the barn, coming towards us...and I crawled towards the fence, sure I would be trampled. He was upon me! And somehow I rolled in a very undignified manner under the lower slat and pulled my hand away...just in time!

There Toby stood, his muzzle seeking treats and attention, curious as to why we'd engaged him in a game of "Tag!" if we weren't willing to acquiesce!

Andrea herself had been forbidden to pet Toby when no adult was present, so both we and the poor colt went unfilled.

And there's the connection to Terabithia; Andrea was an imaginative girl, but her family was poor. And so, when she came to school, as she was poorer than my family, she was picked on.

In some ways, I was happy that they were picking on someone other than me. In other ways, I saw in her a real friend...and it tore me apart...because I didn't know how to handle that kind of conflict.

One day after school as we walked together (she had to pass my house) she pointed out the hoof prints in the yard of the neighbor who housed the unofficial "bus stop". She talked about how she was riding with her sister and Bella had gotten out of hand...and put large divots in the neighbor's yard.

That Monday, at the bus stop, the divots became an "issue". And I told the other kids the story about the out of control horse and the damage done to the property. And everyone was rarin' to go and went off on this, condmning Andrea for damage to a neighbor's property. (Never mind that the property owner knew about it, had forgiven it, was witness to the young women nearly falling off the horse...etc...).

Yup. When Andrea arrived, she was subjected to Hell at the hands of her peers. And I was a willing accomplice.

She rode the bus alone that day, head down, and home the same way, walking alone. I felt badly all day, completely guilty..but was afraid to act in her defense lest they jump on me as well. And I saw that it was my own fault.

The next day, Andrea wasn't there. We all felt bad, thought it was our fault, and that we should make it up to her.

Then further down the bus route, we picked up my friend Corrine. She described the police out on the river, the Fire Dept. boats, etc...they were looking for someone. It was a response all we river people had seen all our lives...they were looking for a drowning victim.

We immediately jumped to the conclusion they were looking for Andrea when we revealed to Corrine that Andrea wasn't there that day.

"So that's what all the commotion was about!" She cried.

All day long, the rumor spread: We picked on Andrea, and she drowned herself. It was all very dramatic, and we were at fault. If we hadn't picked on her, she would still be with us. We were too harsh. It wasn't her fault. We really did love her.

It was an agonizing day. The teachers had no idea what we were talking about, or that Andrea's drowning was even the topic of our angst and weird silences throughout the day.

It never occurred to us to discuss the illogic that Corrine lived about 3 miles up the road, and if Andrea was going to drown herself, she would do so at the nearest bank, and then flow south towards Oregon (a local town...we were between it an Byron).

A friend and I stopped when we got off the bus, to regard the hoof prints in the ground...the last memoir of Andrea, our betrayal of her, and our shock at her passing. It was horrible. We were convicted by the hoofprints.

I was crying when I got home, and told Mom all about how Andrea killed herself because of us. It was all our fault. We shouldn't have been so mean.

Mom of course had met Andrea and was very shocked by all of this, especially the idea that a 7 year old would make her way from her house to the river without someone knowing aobut it. And the fact that we had no official sources for this event.

So Mom called her house. I of course tried to stop her, not wanting to cause her family more pain...and terrified they would hate me.

Mom had a great conversation with Andrea's mother, told her the story, was laughing not long after, and when she hung up the phone, gave me a message about rumors, both starting them, participating in them, and in fact....believing them.

Andrea was fine, Mom was proud to share, and her family was thrilled that she was still alive and such a subject of love in our neighborhood and our school.

And in fact, when Andrea came back, we all made it a point to make up to her. It's not everyday that one gets a second chance!


Anonymous said...

Adoro, I hope you are saving all these gems in a book.

Adrienne said...

What a wonderful story!! Thanks

Warren said...

Wow. The movie gets me emotionally too. (As did the book, as a kid.) Now, though the movie has a second level of meaning, and pain, because the character in the book reminds me so strongly of the childhood version of my ex-wife. Instead of Leslie having artsy-fartsy parents like in the book (and movie), though, imagine that same kid, wildly imaginative and capable of outrunning all the boys in a foot-race, constrained by parents who never understood or value her. Then throw in a few tragedies, some self made, and some otherwise, and instead of a bright light going out while it's still flickering brightly, you have a light go out for other reasons. The death of Leslie by drowning seems a metaphor for the way the author feels that what is really great in girls gets crushed out of them. Most of them are still physically alive at 25 and 35, but how many still have not had the light in their eyes snuffed out, their spiritual and intuitive imagination crushed, and replaced by a hard-edged cynicism, made necessary by the need for preservation.

The world failed Leslie by not being safe. Her parents seem strangely ineffectual, and cardboard to me, especially in the movie. And the teacher seems kind of pointless and flat in the movie. But the relationship between Jess and Leslie is quite sweet, and the world of imagination they construct is beautiful. And I absolutely love how Jess turns his internal view of his sweet baby sister around at the end. He decides to protect, rather than smother what is beautiful about being a little girl. I wish the whole world still protected little girls' hearts like that.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I've missed your stories. You have a real gift for storytelling. Here's another gem. Thanks.

Fr. V said...

Man! I was holding my breath!

(You should let Uncle Jim repost that one.)